Lane Smith, Longtime Times Editor, Dies At 72

Present and former Seattle Times staffers could talk at length about the kind of newspaperman and human being Lane Smith was, but all their stories and memories boil down to this simple fact:

He cared.

He cared about the people he worked with, the people he wrote about, the community he lived in, the profession he chose and the family he raised with his wife of 46 years, Pat.

Mr. Smith, who retired from The Times in 1986, died Sunday of a heart attack at 72. In 39 years at the newspaper, he worked as a reporter, religion editor, city editor, assistant managing editor and ombudsman.

"He was a skillful and sensitive reporter and editor, but most of all, he was a `people' person who forged warm relationships with his fellow workers," said retired Managing Editor Henry MacLeod.

From his years on the religion beat, Mr. Smith picked up the nickname "The Deacon," often shortened to "Deke."

Visiting churches in the 1950s and 1960s meant learning about the growing civil-rights movement, and helped forge a personal commitment that would run through Mr. Smith's entire career.

Reporter Lee Moriwaki recalls the passion Mr. Smith, as city editor, showed for a project that explored joblessness among African-American teenagers.

"I don't think Lane was motivated by the chance to make a splash journalistically. He was just deeply troubled that so many kids couldn't get work," Moriwaki said.

In 1964, Mr. Smith traveled to the emerging nation of Malawi in Southeast Africa with a young African man who had come to Washington state for a college education. It was an unusual assignment, but brought Times readers a glimpse of a world far beyond their doorstep.

Mr. Smith's coverage of religion led to his longtime friendship with the Rev. Dale Turner, then minister at University Congregational Church, whose column has appeared in The Times for 15 years.

"I loved Lane," Turner said. "He had humility without timidity, competence without arrogance, and he exercised authority without being authoritarian."

Although news is serious business, there were light moments as well. Some staffers called Mr. Smith "Seagull with tie" when he'd swoop by to see what yummy tidbits he might pick from their lunches.

But above all, they knew he appreciated and respected them, said Shelby Gilje, Times Troubleshooter. Gilje said Mr. Smith was one of the first Times managers to encourage women, including her, to become editors.

"His sense of fairness to many groups, including women, was an outgrowth of his coverage of civil rights," Gilje said.

To many developing reporters, Mr. Smith was a thoughtful and effective mentor, even a bit of a father figure. His advice was helpful and his concern was genuine. "Virtually everything I know about the newspaper business I learned from him," said reporter Peyton Whitely.

Born in Tacoma, Mr. Smith attended Stadium High School and the University of Washington. In high school, he worked as an aide in the Tacoma News Tribune's sports department. In college, he started at The Times as a part-time reporter.

He served as an infantry soldier in France and Germany in World War II; after the war he remained in Europe for a short time, working on a military newspaper.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Smith is survived by his four children, Sally Mathewson of Tacoma, Tim Smith of Glendale, Calif., Shannon Smith Miller of Santa Clarita, Calif., and Christopher Smith of Ann Arbor, Mich.; six grandchildren; his brother, Wynn Smith of Rio Vista, Calif.; and his sister, Shirley Manson of Hayward, Calif.

In retirement, Mr. Smith and his wife loved taking long walks downtown or to the University District from their condominium near the Aurora Bridge. Longtime avid travelers, the Smiths in recent years visited England, France, Switzerland, Spain, Poland and Portugal.

"We really enjoyed ourselves on those trips," Pat Smith said. "You couldn't have asked for a better husband or best friend."

Bonds formed in a stressful profession can be long-lasting, and Mr. Smith was an active member of the Seattle Times Alumni and Retirees Society (STARS), which meets for potlucks three times a year.

Retired Executive Editor Jim King remembers Mr. Smith's on-the-job style as marked by a level-headed approach and an ability to listen. "I remember him for being calm when the newsroom was in a state of panic during a big story. In a news meeting, he might not speak often, but when he did, it was always constructive."

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Anne Catholic Church, 1411 First Ave. W. Remembrances can be made to St. Vincent de Paul Society, 5950 Fourth Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98108.